Thursday, September 3, 2015

Questron: Won! (with Final Rating)

The respect that Lord British never gave me.

United States
Quest Software (developer); Strategic Simulations, Inc. (publisher)
Released 1984 for Apple II, Atari 8-bit, and Commodore 64
Date Started: 28 August 2015
Date Ended:
02 September 2015
Total Hours: 15
Reload Count: 12
Difficulty: Easy-Moderate (2.5/5)
Final Rating: 32
Ranking at Time of Posting: 117/199 (59%)
Ranking at Game #453: 302/453 (67%)

After the last post, I did what I said I was going to do and pillaged chests and coffins in the previous two dungeons for a while. I soon found that hit points cap at around 30,000--at least from coffins. But you can still buy more beyond that. Once I had enough gold, I bought around 50,000 and stocked up on "Fireballs" and "Stone Spells." During my trips, enchanted armor and long bows became available in the shops. At that point, I felt I was ready to take on Mantor.

Entering the final dungeon.
Mantor's Mountain, on its own island to the northeast of the Land of Evil, opens with the diamond ring from the Dungeon of Doom. It turned out to be a whopping 17 levels, but they were only 9 x 9, so progress was swift. However, I ended up having to make the trip twice. The first time, I opened a jar that destroyed my best weapon on one level, then a few levels down opened a coffin that was "booby trapped" and reduced my hit points from 45,000 to 10,000. I wasn't having any of that. I reloaded and vowed to just press through the dungeon without opening anything.

Chet learns to avoid opening things in Mantor's Mountain.
The dungeon had the same kind of monsters as the other two, but I dealt with almost all of them with the copious spells I had brought. I wanted to make sure I got to Mantor's place with as many hit points as possible. I was recalling the endgame of Questron II, where every time you took a step, you took damage. This game's analogue was a periodic message that "Mantor hits with magic fireball!" while exploring the dungeon levels. There's no way to avoid this and the 200-500 hit points damage that it causes.

On level 17, I was approached by some crystalline creature that offered to show me "the way to the safe" for 11,000 gold. I paid it, and he opened a secret door.

Curiously, this is almost exactly as much as I have.
I groaned when I saw the safe. I thought I was heading for the endgame, not retrieving another artifact. I worried I'd have to retrace my steps back up 17 levels. But the safe turned out to conceal a pit that led to Mantor's fortress.

When I arrived, some announcement said, "intruder" and warned the guards that I was "armed and dangerous." Mantor announced that the "death device is activated" and "Questron will be destroyed."

The castle wasn't big, but I had to plow my way through dozens of guards. They wouldn't let me lead them to me one-by-one; instead, they refused to step out of certain formations, ensuring that multiple guards could attack me at once. Maddeningly, my bows wouldn't work in such circumstances; I only got a lame message that "projectiles don't work here."

They won't move out of this formation, so I have to walk into a square where 5 of them can attack me at once.
Mantor was sitting up in his throne room, and I couldn't figure out how to get to him at first. It turned out that his doors opened with the same gold key that opens the doors in the Royal Castle. I have no idea why that would be.

Once I reached Mantor's room, things got hairy. He immediately destroyed the weapon I was carrying. As I made my way towards him, he blasted me for around 500-700 hit points with every step. Just crossing his room, I went from almost 24,000 hit points to less than 19,000. I soon found that he was invulnerable to melee attacks. Every time I tried to equip a weapon, it was immediately destroyed.

Just as I was about to spray him.
Casting about for some item in my inventory, the only thing I could think of was Mesron's magic powder. It worked. One use and Mantor immediately died. I don't want to know what was in that powder.

Upon his death, I received his book of magic, which I used to destroy his doomsday device, then used again to teleport myself out of the castle. I found myself outside the royal castle on Questron (for some reason, my eagle, which I had left outside Mantor's Mountain, was there with me). A single pit screamer decided to block my entry to the castle and ended up being the real "final battle" of the game.

Destroying Mantor's doomsday device.
Inside, I made my way to the throne room, where literally the best ending that we've seen in my CRPG chronology so far commenced. Guards lined up and escorted me to the throne, then filled the hall behind me as King Aaron and Princess Lucane came marching down the aisle. Two trumpeters whipped out their instruments and played a victory tune for about two minutes. The king spoke:

For many years, I have awaited the emergence of a mighty warrior. Until you came, I had almost given up that dream. The oracle said that the one who takes the silver trumpet shall be wise enough, and strong enough, to destroy the evil Mantor. Many before have tried; all before have failed.

Chester, I appoint thee Baron! For thy victory, I award thee all lands within 10 days of Geraldtown.

Baron Chester, Mesron requests an audience.

That's like everything you see here plus one more screen to the north and east.
After the king's speech, the guards departed the throne room in orderly ranks, followed by the princess, and I was able to control the character again.

I went to visit Mesron, who rained on my parade by telling me that destroying Mantor was only the "first step." His book of magic, which I was carrying, was "immensely evil" and must be destroyed. He told me to enter his teleporter--not telling me where it would take me. I did so, and found myself invited to continue my adventure in Questron II.

Man, making me a baron and giving me a bunch of land really didn't cost the king anything in the long run, did it?
I was sure there must be a recording of the endgame on YouTube, but I couldn't find one, so here it is. This takes the game from Mantor's dungeon through the endgame sequences.

Okay, two things about the endgame before we get into the final rating:

1. As we discussed, Questron took a lot from Ultima, but Richard Garriott could have learned a couple of things from Questron--like how to treat a winning player. Am I still irked at not being invited to my own victory party? You bet I am.

2. Questron II is exactly the same game, just with better graphics. You start off weak with a hit point cap. You slowly amass gold. You play minigames to increase attributes. You go through major plot divisions that lead to attribute increases. You have to find a succession of keys and other items to progress through the various dungeons. You massacre castle guards to find a lot of these keys. Mantor starts destroying cities and you have to stop him. You get a selection of time-dependent weapons, armor, and transportation options, culminating in a tamed eagle. You reach the endgame through a 3-D trap-filled dungeon, where Mantor has a bunch of attacks that sap your hit points with every step. You kill him in an indirect way and use the Book of Magic to finish the game. Questron II is basically Questron remade.

Despite this, I seem to have enjoyed Questron more than Questron II. I can't see any mechanical reason why, so it must solely be the nostalgia factor. The game kept triggering memories all the way through the end. I'm pretty sure I had another friend with me when I won the first time--not the same one who introduced me to it. I think we were at his father's condo when we finally won, and I seem to remember switching who was playing with each dungeon level.

So how does my first CRPG rate? Let's check it out:

  • 3 points for game world. The backstory is a little bland and derivative, and not well-reflected in the world that you can explore. (For instance, Princess Lucane, who gives the PC a note in the manual, never really has anything interesting to say to him.) I do like the slow destruction of towns at Mantor's hands, though.
  • 3 points for character creation and development. Questron just does this all wrong. The only "creation" is the designation of a name, and development is mostly through fixed plot points instead of player action. You can increase attributes with the mini-games, but these are overridden by the plot developments so they don't end up meaning a lot. Plus, it's never clear what most of the attributes (particularly stamina and intelligence) actually do. You never really feel like you're getting stronger in the game--for every increase, there's a new foe waiting to do 10x the damage as the last one. On the role-playing front, I'm going to allow one point for the ability to progress by killing and robbing, even though I tried to avoid it.
  • 2 points for a handful of NPCs that impart quest information, and all of the wandering travelers and prisoners who give you one-line bits of intelligence (although mostly unnecessary).
  • 3 points for encounters and foes. The enemies are well-described in the manual, but they're really not on the screen long enough to be consequential. Having different monsters respond to different weapons was a good idea, but in practice it's easier just to pound away with less effective weapons than to juggle 6 different ones and have to swap between them. The special attacks of some of the dungeon monsters lend an additional challenge.

Some bastard lives up to his name.
  • 2 points for magic and combat. For most of the game, you only have the option to (F)ight; later, you get a couple of spells. You get no real rewards from combat, so it's mostly an annoyance.
  • 2 points for equipment. As with character development, I don't like Questron's approach, making weapons and armor slowly available based on game time. A handful of special items don't quite redeem the system. It's kind of funny that it's a major event when you get a short bow.

Switching among my available weapons.
  • 4 points for economy. The economy is reasonably well done. It's the major form of development throughout the game, and it never stops being relevant, with the need to purchase hit points and expensive spells. If you don't save-scum and cheat at gambling, it's also reasonably tightly-controlled.
  • 2 points for a main quest with no side quests and no alternate outcomes or role-playing.
  • 4 points for graphics, sound, and interface. The redundant keyboard/joystick interface is flawless. Graphics and sound are both serviceable for the era.
  • 4 points for gameplay. Although quite linear (except for the order in which you explore the islands), the game benefits from a brisk pace, a moderate challenge, and an overall game time suitable to its content.

The score adds up to 29, but I'm going to boost it to 32 with 3 bonus points. The first is for the minigames, which are fun by themselves even if they don't lead to much in the way of character development. I give two more for the excellent ending. In an era where too many games simply dump you do the prompt upon completion, Questron deserves a lot of credit for making the end a true ceremony.

The box doesn't lie. You can ride an eagle.
I'm going to do something beyond that, too, and I don't think this is just youthful fondness talking. Although flawed, this little sub-series represents some of the most notable Ultima-inspired games, and I think Questron deserves a place on my "must play" list for anyone who wants a full sense of the history of CRPGs.

I was hoping contemporary reviews would realize the uniqueness of the elaborate ending, and they do. In the June 1984 Computer Gaming World, James McPherson says, "The end does not fizzle. If you complete Questron, you will really enjoy an ending fit for a king." Or a baron. He also praises the look and feel of the dungeons (I guess rough-hewn wireframe dungeons were quite a novelty after the blocky ones of Wizardry), the ease of the controls, and the mini-games. In her storied "C*R*P*G Survey" issue of October 1991, Scorpia credits the game with "one of the neatest reward endings in the genre."

Slaughtering castle guards in Legacy of the Ancients.
Chuck Dougherty had a promising beginning with this game, but his next two titles--Legacy of the Ancients (1987) and Questron II (1988)--manage to offer almost the exact same experience and make the exact same mistakes. Owing to how I messed up my approach to this project, I reviewed both of those games before playing the original, giving Legacy a 38 and Questron II a 26 (links to my first posts for both games). I haven't yet played the sequel to Legacy, The Legend of Blacksilver (1988), but MobyGames's description makes it sound like the same thing a fourth time. It's too bad that Dougherty couldn't break out of his template.

Slaughtering castle guards in Questron II
Both Chuck and his brother John (who did some programming, playtesting, and other development tasks for the entire series) disappeared after Blacksilver. Chuck's LinkedIn profile indicates that when his development company, Quest Software, closed down, he went to work as the Chief Information Officer for a community mental health organization in Michigan and has remained there for 23 years. John, meanwhile, is Executive Vice President of Operations at a "risk visualization" software company in Lansing, Michigan. I tried to contact Chuck Dougherty through his work e-mail, but have not received a reply as of yet.

In the end, returning to the game that got me addicted to the genre was a positive experience, and unlike my attempts to return to The A-Team, it didn't damage any of my childhood memories. It's not a perfect game, but I didn't remember it as a perfect game--just an addictive one. But while I'm not upset that the CRPG genre didn't adopt Questron's approach to combat, or its merciless slaughter of castle guards, or its approach to hit points, we sure could stand to see a lot more parades and trumpets.


  1. In reference to your A-Team comment, a good friend of mine as dubbed this phenomenon of reality paling in comparison to nostalgic memories as "The Night Court Effect," in homage to a show from our youth that was awesome in our memories, but heinously bad when revisited as an adult.

    1. See also The Goonies. Watched it with my wife who'd never seen it as a kid and found myself apologizing for the movie throughout.

    2. That's the worst. I hate being really excited about showing someone a movie or show from my past and then having to embarrassingly apologize for large swaths of it as it becomes clear nostalgia was really taking me for a ride.

      On a side note, I have successfully introduced both Monty Python (Grail) and Strange Brew to people successfully, but while they were from an earlier era, we were all in our late teens. I wonder how it would go now. Luckily enough, I have children I can experiment on. :)

    3. Hey now, I still enjoy Goonies. Er, as long as I kind of tune out any scene with Sloth, which tends to be embarrassing or eye-rolling, or both.

      I have made my wife promise me that she wouldn't introduce our kids to Holy Grail without me present. I definitely want to be around for that one.

    4. All right, enough with this thread. I haven't watched Night Court or The Goonies in decades, and I don't want to know that they're bad. Soon you'll tell me that Benson and Tales of the Gold Monkey don't hold up, either.

    5. We would never come to your blog and badmouth Benson. We're not monsters.

    6. I watched a half-dozen episodes of Benson recently, and I enjoyed them. The writing's not on a pair with, say, Maude, but the show had a basic warmth and social conscience (probably thanks to Robert Guillaume) and that helps make it last.

      Now Three's Company, on the other hand...that's just kind of embarrassing these days. Except Don Knotts -- he's always a pleasure, if only because he's the Don Knottsiest.

      Anyway, congratulations to the Addict on a win #200 that also made for a very enjoyable read. Looking forward to the next 200!

    7. This comment has been removed by the author.

    8. @Chet: Hey, I thought we weren't supposed to spoil CRPGs for you but you didn't mention anything about movies... well other than an earlier post where you equated that to telling a retro-movie addict that Vader is the father to a first-time audience of SW4.

    9. Night Court is still a great show. I recently watched it again for the first time in decades if not years (on EncoreClassic) and it was just as funny as it was when I watched it new as a kid.

  2. I'm not sure if the way Mantor keeps damaging you with fireballs before you even reach him is just a d1ckish way to lengthen the game or a neat way to set him apart from standard enemies. It can be both I guess.

    I never played the Questron games, but I did play LoA and LoB. They do seem to be very similar indeed, although LoA and B have a weird charme with their mix of scifi and fantasy. One contemporary German review of LoB on Mobygames (by Powerplay) says that it became a lot more complex, but doesn't go into detail as to how. My memories are fuzzy, but I can't think of any big improvement mechanics-wise.

  3. Oh and congrats on finishing* your 200th game! This was a very enjoyable read.

  4. That ending gave eight year old me goosebumps. One of the few times I can remember a video game doing that.

    As for your relative disappointment with Questron 2, it might not merely be your nostalgia for the original. I remember feeling it was a letdown after waiting for its release for what seemed like an eternity as a kid. Heck, the ending for that game was mostly a text dump, complete with a teaser for a sequel that never came. Where's my fanfare?

    1. Game endings that I've liked enough they've stayed with me:

      * MegaMan2 - even though it's simplistic, as the background images change through the seasons, it gives a nice impression of "your work here is done." It may just be me, but I always found it moving, for what's otherwise just a platformer.

      * Dragon Age: Origins. There's something about saying congrats and goodbye to your companions that gets to me. Even after the fifth play-through, it makes me sad to be done with the game.

      * Bioshock: If you choose the pure good stance all the way through, it comes out pretty touching.

      I can't even remember any others offhand.

    2. The original Portal is probably the last game whose ending felt really transcendent to me. Such a delightful little game, ending with The villain singing you a happy song about killing her!

    3. Agreed with almost all of these except for 'the Deus Ex games'. One and Invisible War, sure! You had to play through a whole section which in each case (well definitely 1 - IW is kinda past my memory but I don't remember taking offense to the endings) felt like you'd made a real difference. It could have been the most amazing in the world for Human Revolution - but it was achieved by literally choosing between buttons to push with no interaction from what you'd done previously in the game. I thought it was a good/alright game - but it was in the same breath one with a series of endings so disappointing they made me want to cry.

  5. How strange that victory sends the hero to a world where a virtually identical sequence of events reoccurs, right down to being a peasant again. I see Questron II doesn't give him an explicit fate after being rewarded by the king, which also happened in the first game, so events could very well contrive to transport him to another iteration of Questron after that. By proving he can beat Mantor, has the hero doomed himself to perpetually journey from alternate reality to alternate reality, completing slightly different versions of the same quest?

    1. Shasta had not yet realized that one's reward for completing a difficult task is to be given a harder and better one...

    2. Sounds like Micheal Moorcock's Eternal Champion.

  6. I wonder, Chet... When you're doing the GIMLET for these games, do you decide to give bonus points/penalties before you've scored each category, or do you look at the final score and feel that something is off and then make ad hoc adjustments?

    1. I generally have a good idea, before I start the GIMLET, if I want to reward a game for things done well in a particular area. When I reach the end of the ratings, if I don't think any of the individual categories captured those positives, I'll assign the bonus points. In this case, I could have conceivably improved some other category ("game world?") based on the ending, but it didn't feel completely right, so I used the bonus category instead.

      There have been a few times where I didn't have anything in mind, but the game just felt too high or too low, so I deliberately used the bonus to adjust that. That's rarer than the other scenario, though.

  7. Is there an actual 'Must Play' list? I would like to see it if there is one.

    1. Yep. It's in the right-hand sidebar, as the bottom item.

  8. Your next game is "Rivers of Light". Didn't you play that waaaay back as Game 29? Or were there two games of the same name that year somehow?

    1. I did indeed. But a) I didn't win it; and b) I hadn't played any of Stuart Smith's other games, so I didn't properly appreciate its context. I want to give it another go--probably just one posting--for those reasons.

  9. I realize most of the addictiveness is in the game and not the ending, but you seem particularly sensitive to endings, and your first was one of the best of its age. I have to wonder, if this first game had dumped you to the DOS prompt (or equivalent) instead of giving you trumpets, would we be reading the blog of the Nintendo Addict instead? Might you have said, "well, that wasn't worth it" and moved on to something else entirely?

    As I say this, I can't even remember my first game, so maybe the initiation isn't really so important. The first five or six games I got samples of were all places where I rarely revisited or had a chance to play, and usually it was someone else playing while I watched, so it's all a bit of a blur whether it was Bard's Tale or Wizardry, Uukrul or King's Bounty. I think I knew I wanted more immediately, without even really understanding the genre. Then again, I was computer omnivorous, so it included Atari games, arcade games, the first sweet teaser of Nintendo, adventure games, and more, all rolled up into one mass of desire, irrespective of game type. I can remember being nearly as jazzed to play Math Blaster as I was to play Donkey Kong.

    1. I found Questron addictive long before I knew what kind of ending it had. After all, I convinced my mother to buy a C64 on the strength of the game alone. So I'd probably be addictive to CRPGs no matter what. But I agree that the end of a game does have a certain importance. For years, I compared games to Questron and found them wanting in that regard.

  10. You say that you're approach to the blog was messed up, but you probably did it the correct way for your own sanity. I'm deep into the PLATO Moria, and it is a damned *slog*.

    1. Tell us about your experiences, will you? I only got far enough into the game to properly document it, but I'd love to know more about how it plays in the long-term.

      My thread on the game is here:

      I'll read anything you post, as will many of my other commenters.

    2. It plays much the same later on as it did at the beginning. It's just a long-ass game with huge dungeons that have nothing in them. I'm blogging my way through the experience (i.e. ripping off your format) over here:

    3. WOW. I don't think I've ever been so humbled. I thought I was willing to go the distance with my persistence on games like NetHack and Knights of Legend, but you're actually WINNING--not just winning, but fully mapping--all the PLATO games?! That's incredible.

      After catching up on your blog, I'm doing two things:

      1. Adding links to your entries to the ends of my own, since you greatly expand upon the experience playing the games.

      2. Regrettably, changing the entries in the "Won?" column for the PLATO games to "No." I had arrogantly put "N/A" in there, thinking that it wasn't even feasible to win them in 2015. (I'm going to resist going back and--likely using your maps--trying to win them.)

      Keep it up, and once you get out of the PLATO era, you're absolutely going to fly.

    4. Thanks for the kind words man. To be honest, those first few PLATO games weren't that big, or that difficult. Moria is a different prospect altogether; needless to say I won't be fully mapping it.

    5. Oh, if you do revisit a PLATO game, I recommend DND. It's by far the most fun and playable of the ones I've done so far.

  11. "Just as I was about to spray him." You would think that after 200 games you'd learn the difference between chemical spray, and a large piece of metal on the end of a stick, jk. Congrats on 200 games, and heres to 200 more.

    1. A well aimed blow to the brain can make it spray though.

  12. It's interesting that you rated this much higher than its sequel, but then going back and reading your posts it seems that, apart from the graphics, everything was implemented worse. The tone of your posts for this and Questron II are poles apart!

    1. I think Q1 and Q2 had the same problems, but Q1 had more positive elements to make up for them.

  13. Finally caught up after having started reading this last winter, I think, and at your 200th, full-circle entry no less! (I did skip a couple entries, games I want to play myself) Quite the journey, can't wait for more!

  14. Congratulations on the 200th game, here's hoping for 200 more! Games are going to start getting a lot longer, it will be interesting to see how your pace continues as the games begin to get more complex.

  15. OK, want to laugh?

    In _Ruins of Adventure_, the D&D module based on Pool of Radiance, Mendor's Library is Mantor's Library.

    I always wondered why. I guess now I know--they were inspired by this game, and probably the name rights are different in printed modules and computer games.

  16. I was reading your description of the ending, thinking I've got to check that out, and searched YouTube. Didn't find it, and was thinking I'd suggest recording it. Then I read on. Excellent service I must say.

    I agree with previous posters that the Questron posts have been good reads. Very fair and not nostalgia-tinted in the sense of treating them unfairly well, but nostalgia-tinted in the sense of giving them additional depth.

    The ending looked very impressive for the time indeed. You have to walk to the throne room yourself to trigger the celebrations, and the also walk back to the wizard, no pretty reward pictures, but everything in the same gameplay view seamlessly. That was probably pretty immersive in 1984.

    1. Yeah, I couldn't believe that no one else had recorded it, given how many sources talk about how good it was.

    2. Yes, thanks for the coverage and video and congrats on your 200th game!

  17. Gods, Chet! Why do you still have the turd named "Ultima: Escape from Mt. Drash" on your hard disk?

    1. I haven't thrown anything away. You never know when some overzealous copyright holder is going to purge all copies on the Internet, and I may need to re-reference the games at some point.

  18. Congrats on your 200th game! I love the blog but I'm usually a few posts behind so don't comment much. Really enjoyed the Death Knights posts, really hit that nostalgic sweet spot for me.

  19. a few things:

    congratulations on game 200, for one.

    it's been fun so far and i'm sure i'm going to enjoy the games you play in the future.

    secondly, this was so fun to read - your little recollections sprinkled in all of the way was pretty interesting.

    lastly: since folks are sharing their "origin stories" with rpg's, i guess i'll share mine, although mine's more for adventure games. the rpg bug never seriously bit for me until the modern era:

    i'd seen arcade games and been playing them for about three or so years - so this must have been 1983 - when i encountered my first computers in a collection of movies, most notably tron and wargames.

    i'd also encountered home consoles by this point [in the form of the atari 2600.]

    so, i was AWARE of games, but not outside of "get a high score."

    then, in 1985, i wen to visit a friend who specifically showed me king's quest 3 and space quest 1. we can't - at this late date - decide which he showed me first, but those two games left an impression on me.

    the impression was: games could be a medium that could tell a coherent story and stir emotions in the person playing the game beyond just excitement or the chase for a high score.

    after that, i was hooked. i got myself an ibm pc and never looked back. [although, i did look around at my other friends with better gaming machines with some envy. when your whole gaming landscape is beeper music and 4 colour cga - and you're playing on an amber monitor...]

    i'm eternally grateful that i picked up the hobby and glad that my boundaries have expanded a little so that i can start enjoying the rpg genre [and thus, in turn, this blog].

    this hobby makes everything a little brighter and sunnier.


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